Rare illustrated and bibliophile copy of Mendelssohn’s Pentateuch, Vienna 1837

Moses MENDELSSOHN: כתבי קדש נדפסים מחדש ומהודרים בתוספות רבות… NETHIBOT HASCHALOM. 5 vol. With an engraved portrait of Mendelssohn as front. and 5 engraved titles in red. Vienna: 1837.

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ME-ET MOSHEH MI-DESAU (i.e. Moses MENDELSSOHN), Transl.: כתבי קדש נדפסים מחדש ומהודרים בתוספות רבות... NETHIBOT HASCHALOM. [The Pentateuch, translated into German and commentary in Hebrew by Moses Mendelssohn, the former printed by using Hebrew characters. Commentaries of Rashi and the Onklos translation attached.] 5 vol. With an engraved portrait of Mendelssohn by Selzer (?) as frontispiece (in vol. 1) and 5 engraved title vignettes in red, each depicting one scene of the 5 volumes of the written Torah. Vienna: Anton Schmid 1837.

8°. [2 (engr. front.)], [2 (engr. title)], [2 (2nd title)], ca. 950 p.; [2 (engr. title)], [2 (2nd title)], ca. 850 p.; [2 (engr. title)], [2 (2nd title)], ca. 850 p.; [2 (engr. title)], [2 (2nd title)], ca. 600 p.; [2 (engr. title)], [2 (2nd title)], ca. 700 p. Contemporary grained full leather over cardboards on 4 faked raised bands, with gilt title, numbering and monogram („MS“) on spine, rich gold tooling with lines, frameworks and dentelles incorporating floral themes on spine and arrows at board corners, gilt book-block and waxed endpapers in mint colours with blind-stamped marbled pattern.

Well preserved set of this rare illustrated edition of Moses Mendelssohn’s revolutionary German translation of the Pentateuch. Mendelssohn translated the first 5 books of the Torah into German using Hebrew characters while his commentary was composed in Hebrew. The commentary aimed to explain the translation choices made by Mendelssohn and drew heavily on traditional medieval Jewish Bible commentators. In 1783 the complete translation was first published and immediately received with success.

More than 20 editions appeared until the 1880s, however only a few of the illustrated and in superior printing quality like the presented. This is due to the fact that Vienna printer Anton Schmid was especially capable of printing high-quality Hebrew books. He had been trained by Josef Lorenz Kurzböck, one of the most prolific printers of books with non-Latin letters of its time, who had installed a special case room for Hebrew characters, even imported stencils from Amsterdam, and thus started printing Hebrew books in large scale. (It is important to know that Jews were prohibited to run printing businesses in those days). Anton Schmid, also trained in oriental languages, took over from Kurzböck in 1805, additionally installed his own mill for quality mould paper, and even hired Jewish scholars for proofreading. Kurzböck already had published Mendelssohn's Pentateuch (1801) and Schmid continued this tradition with editions in 1808/09, 1815, 1817/18. This 4th print by Schmid is the most elaborated, incorporating 5 well engraved red title vignettes.

Our copy is skilfully bound in full leather and bears the monogram „M S“ on a richly decorated spine, which all indicates that this set was bound for a wealthy Jewish person.

Covers in parts worn, edges slightly bumped, inside marginally foxy and wormy, binding in parts slightly loose, vol. 1 with contemporary owner's remark with black ink on front leaf verso, 4 leaves of vol. 1 enforced with tape, otherwise ver well preserved indeed.

Particularly rare, WorldCat/OCLC, KVK and viaLibri Libraries trace only one complete set worldwide, at Klau Library (HUC-JIR), Cincinnati.

Durstmüller I, p. 218-220 (for Kurzböck and Schmid); Werner Weinberg: Moses Mendelssohns Übersetzungen und Kommentare der Bibel. In: Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte. Vol. 41, No. 2 (1989), pp. 97-118: here p. 117 (with an exhaustive description of the complex publishing history of Mendelssohn's translation).

Additional information

Weight 10 kg